7,602 fake Bulgarian accounts with a total of over 267,000 followers have been removed from TikTok following an investigation by the social network against the spread of fake news, Russian disinformation and violation of community guidelines on its platform.
In its report, TikTok also reveals the existence of an organized Russian network for spreading false information, which includes 1,700 accounts, that have reached tens of thousands of users across whole Europe. The data is based on research for the following period: June 16-December 16, 2022. The report analyzes the ways in which the network has operated.
A verification by Factcheck.bg found that, regardless of the measures taken, Russian propaganda in Bulgarian continues to be spread on TikTok. One of the accounts posting such content with the most followers is Benyta7556. The identity of the person behind the profile cannot be verified.
In none of the videos published on the profile, the owner of the account shows his face or voice. However, this did not hinder the popularity of the account and the videos it distributed with Russian propaganda.
The profile Benyta7556 has over 13,700 followers and its videos have over 272,200 likes. Judging by the dates of its published videos, it appears the account has been active since June 24, 2022. Some of the videos have over half a million views. All of them, without exception, represent the main points of Russian propaganda regarding the war in Ukraine and the confrontation with the “West”.
Russian disinformation in Bulgarian is also shared by other TikTok accounts. However, most of them are not entirely focused on creating only Russian propaganda content as benyta7756, but rather accidentally share such videos.
TikTok is most popular among the 18-24 age group. According to data from the Reuters Institute, 8% of Bulgarians use TikTok to get information about the news. According to this indicator, this social network ranks 6th in our country.
The TikTok investigation was published in February 2023. The social network, owned by Chinese company ByteDance Ltd., disclosed its findings in a report under the Code of Practice on Disinformation of the European Union (EU). This is an initiative of the European Commission, by virtue of which the major platforms make commitments to limit the spread of disinformation and to publish the results of those efforts.
The investigation relates to cases observed between June 16 and December 16, 2022. The malicious content was found to have reached more than 100,000 users across Europe.
Various tools have been used to disguise the location from which the photos, memes and videos are being spread. The main goal was to make the accounts appear to originate from different countries. The network bought personalized advertising in order to give the impression that their accounts are created and maintained by local citizens. They also bought IP addresses to make it look like they are creating accounts from different residences, even though they were all generated from a single location and device.
Accounts from this Russian disinformation network on TikTok used speech synthesis systems and disseminated pro-Russian statements in the respective local languages.
The network operated from the territory of Russia, but targeted people mainly in Germany, Italy and the UK with content in the respective languages. About 1,700 accounts belonging to the respective network managed to spread anti-Ukrainian messages, pretending to be profiles created by local users. Between July and September 2022, these accounts collected a total of 133,564 followers.
It is not made clear from TikTok’s report whether the disinformation network is connected to the Russian government or not.
The reports of TikTok and other social media companies under the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation were first published in February 2023. New reports will be published every six months.
In February, TikTok announced new anti-disinformation policies that will be implemented into the platform over the next six months. The company said it will seek to work with fact-checkers to identify specific disinformation trends across countries and regions, and will develop tailored media literacy campaigns to address those trends. Portugal, Denmark, Greece and Belgium, as well as other EU countries, are in the focus of the new policies.
In addition to attempts by the platform to combat Russian disinformation, judicial authorities in some countries are also taking measures to crack down on such networks or individual TikTok accounts. Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine until today, the State Security Service of Latvia has launched an investigation into seven cases related to pro-Russian content on the platform and the use of the social network to spread ethnic hatred.
Translated by Vanessa Nikolova